Charlie read books faster than his mum could buy or borrow them. For Charlie, when he read, a magical feeling swallowed him up. Words were colours. Not only did they have a colour, a distinct hue, tone and temperature, they had shapes. When he read a great sentence, paragraph or story it was like a Rubik’s Cube being solved on the page. A mess of colours and shapes would coalesce into a perfect form. It was like the feeling he got when, colouring in, he finished without once going over the lines. It was like opening a new set of lego and seeing the loose packets of randomly coloured bricks turn into a fire engine. The words burst and tumbled together, the shapes clicking, the colours speaking and chattering… and it all just… worked. Of course it wasn’t all fireworks and fun. It was hard sometimes. When he first started learning to read he couldn’t quite get it into his head that the word green, meant green. To Charlie the word green was a yellow starfish shape.
Charlie had an almost supernatural sensitivity when it came to knowing what adults wanted to hear from him. Other kids were like the skin that formed on warm milk. Unfathomable. Unfathomable was one of Charlie’s favourite words. Unlike ‘green’ the colour and shape of ‘unfathomable’ made sense. It was a deep inky, purple-black well. It had an old fashioned wooden roof with rope and bucket. The bucket was black enamel. The tiled roof black slate. The rope ebony. That’s what other kids were, a never-ending hole in the ground.
Adults were easier. He just knew. But he found it difficult to lie. For instance, this morning Mrs. Carter asked, “What’s your favourite animal?” Charlie had to stop and think. He knew what sort of answer his teacher wanted. He wasn’t sure why she wanted him to say tiger or elephant or dolphin. And Charlie knew if he did she’d ask why and then he’d have to say stripes, or the largest land animal on the planet or because they can flip footballs into the crowd at Seaworld. But really his favourite animal was bacon, in a sandwich, with BBQ sauce. He even loved the smell before you got to eat it. And then it was salty and oily and the best animal ever. He’d liked to have answered ‘fillet of sole’, because Salvador Dali said that once. Someone, probably another famous artist, asked him what animal he liked the most and he said fillet of sole. Charlie was obsessed with Salvador Dali, mostly because ‘Salvador Dali’ was another of those perfect sets of words. They looked like a melted candle made of rainbow. He didn’t say that and Mrs Carter attempted to hide her sadness and disappointment at his bacon answer and explanation. And when Mum came to pick him up he had to wait while they spoke in hushed tones.
His Mum looked embarrassed as they left.